Book Review – The Dark Tower by Stephen King


Roland’s ka-tet remains intact, though scattered over wheres and whens: Susannah-Mia has been carried from the Dixie Pig in the summer of 1999 into a birthing room; Jake, Oy, and Father Callahan have entered the restaurant on Lex and Sixty-first with weapons drawn; and Roland and Eddie are with John Cullum in Maine, in 1977, looking for the site on Turtleback Lane where “walk-ins” have often been seen. They want desperately to get back to the others, to Susannah especially, and yet they have come to realize that the world they need to escape is the only one that matters.


Well here we are, the clearing at the end of the path. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally finished The Dark Tower — the seventh and final book in Stephen King’s epic series — and it has been one hell of a journey. I was uncertain how I would feel, finally reaching the conclusion of this series that took decades to complete. Endings can be tricky sometimes, especially for a story as big as this. Despite my doubts, I was sucked in pretty much the entire time. Not since The Waste Lands has the story marched onward so determinedly, taking us through different worlds, whens, and across great distances. Song of Susannah got the plot gaining momentum, and The Dark Tower propelled it further. The story begins by hitting the ground running, picking up right at the cliff-hangers we were left at.

Though it’s not down-the-middle in terms of pages, the story of the book as a whole is split into two concerns. The first is the most plot-centric aspect: saving all of existence by stopping the Breakers, securing the Rose, and saving the Writer’s life. The stakes are the highest for this focus of the story, everything that’s been built up over the series coming to a head in an exciting climax. The consequences here are the most grave as well, evoking grief palpably for the characters as well as myself. It’s the only time in recent memory I have found myself legitimately grieving for characters for a while after I’ve put the book down.

The second concern is getting to the Dark Tower itself, the results of doing this being unclear until the very end. Regarding this the story is a much more character driven affair. While there is a physical goal the group is travelling toward it becomes a matter of Roland’s obsession with reaching this destination and the obstacles this puts them in front of, ultimately confronting the cost this obsession that has lingered on the pages of the series since the beginning. It’s in this part of the story we also see more varied locales, as they trek across the darkest places of End-World, encountering nightmarish adversaries and challenges along the way.

While I emphasize the plot’s forward motion, I appreciate that King still takes the time to get us into the heads of new characters. For instance, the Devar-Toi where the Breakers are being held is not simply a location for the characters to attack. We are shown what it’s like for the Breakers living there, as well as the humans and inhuman beings in charge of keeping them detained. We meet new characters while we do, good and bad, learning their history and how they come to terms with the unspeakable task they take part in/oversee.

While I loved the book, there were somethings I had issues with. One thing it can’t get away from is the fact we’re dealing with a story that involves traveling through time and/or reality, which leads to confusion and inconsistencies at times. It’s never glaring, fortunately, but some little details do nag at me occasionally. What I feel particularly ambivalent about is Mordred, the monstrous son of Roland born through Mia. On the one hand, I really like the way that he is characterized. He’s menacing and creepy, his powers formidable, and yet his personality and motivations are understandable and even a little sympathetic. I really like reading things from his perspective.

My problem with Mordred is that there was so much build up to his birth and involvement in the story — the bulk of the sixth novel concerned with that whole affair — yet I found the inevitable confrontation with him to be rather anticlimactic. In the context of the greater story I think it does work in its own interesting way, defying generic expectations while doing so, but I feel the character deserved to amount to something more substantial than he ultimately did.

Without getting into specifics I will say I did like the ending quite a lot. It was as much about character as it was where they end up. Despite appearances it’s not simply a matter of Roland defeating the big bad and claiming his prize, and more to do with asking why he must. It’s a poignant conclusion, full of uncertainty, yet hopeful too.

I think The Dark Tower might be my favourite of the entire series, but it achieves what it does thanks to the great lead up from its predecessors. At times it was exhilarating, tense, and terrifying, and at others heartbreaking, while still giving the quiet moments where the characters are just themselves, gathered together and reflecting on their journey and its impending end. It’s especially varied as well, with some adversaries being dealt with by gunfire, while others they can do nothing but run. It’s a good testament to the series while providing a truly memorable conclusion. I highly recommend the series, and strongly endorse finishing it.


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